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A hospital declared her dead. Then mourners heard sounds from her coffin.

A 76-year-old woman, who was declared dead at a hospital in Ecuador, shocked her family when she knocked on her coffin during her wake on June 9.

Bella Montoya
Relatives heard Bella Montoya, a former nurse, knocking on her coffin, according to the Associated Press. Screenshot

Mourners at the wake of a woman in central Ecuador were shocked to find she was alive and breathing in her coffin.

Relatives suddenly heard Bella Montoya, a former nurse, knocking on her coffin, according to the Associated Press. They discovered that the 76-year-old woman was still alive – hours after she had been declared dead.

“After about five hours of the wake, the coffin started to make sounds,” her son, Gilberto Barbera, told the AP. “My mom was wrapped in sheets and hitting the coffin, and when we approached we could see that she was breathing heavily.”

“My mom started to move her left hand, open her eyes, her mouth” and was struggling to breathe, local newspaper El Universo quoted him as saying.


In a statement Sunday, the Ministry of Public Health said authorities were investigating the case.

Montoya was taken to the Martín Icaza Hospital in Babahoyo on Friday after suffering a suspected stroke and went into cardiorespiratory arrest. The doctor on duty confirmed her death after resuscitation efforts failed, according to the government statement.

Her son told El Universo that his mother was admitted to the hospital around 9 a.m. Friday. “And at midday, a doctor told me that my mom had died.”

Relatives who had gathered for the wake the same afternoon called emergency services when they realized she was, in fact, alive. Emergency responders returned her to the same hospital where she had been declared dead just hours earlier, according to local media.

A video from the scene showed several people attending to the woman as she lay in the open casket, still wearing her hospital bracelet, and opening and closing her mouth.

Montoya’s condition remains serious, however. According to the ministry, the patient was in the intensive care unit and was intubated.

While many people have a “very primeval fear” of being buried alive, instances of people being prematurely pronounced dead appear to be “incredibly rare,” although they do happen, Stephen Hughes, a senior lecturer in medicine at England’s Anglia Ruskin University and a consultant in emergency medicine, said in an interview.


In February, a hospice in Iowa was fined $10,000 for incorrectly declaring the death of a patient with early-onset dementia. The woman later woke up in a body bag at a funeral home but died days later with family members by her side, according to a state report.

In another case, a man took a breath just minutes after medics pronounced him dead. Weeks later, he was able to leave the hospital, and subsequently told The Washington Post that although the incident had taken a toll on him, he was thankful to be alive.

Hughes says certain drugs may lead to a misdiagnosis of death – as he once found in his own practice, when a patient took an overdose of a barbiturate on a cold day, only to be found to be alive at the mortuary as the body warmed up and the effect of the drug wore off.

Hypothermia can be another cause. “If you fall into cold water, the body can slow right down and you might be thought of as dead when, in fact, you’ve got a very slow heart rate. And if you then warm up, you might come alive again,” he said, adding that the cooling technique actually is used to protect the brain during cardiac surgery.


The final cause of such incidents is human error, where a lack of training or diligence may mean that medical staffers miss a patient’s vital signs.

But, he says, many countries require a long process before a person can be certified as dead or be buried – “so that’s pretty reassuring.”


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